Strike planning

General Guidance on Contingency Planning for a Strike
 

The Harvard Graduate Student Union-United Auto Workers is holding a strike authorization vote. While the future scope of their labor action is entirely unknown, it is important to anticipate the impact that any potential strike action may have on courses, and how best to ensure the University can fulfill its academic mission and protect the vital teaching and research activities in the face of a potential work disruption.

Frequently asked questions

What is a strike?

A strike is an organized and collective work stoppage by a group of employees, usually with the goal of forcing the employer to accept the employees’ demands. Most collective bargaining contracts include a “no strike” clause which prohibits the unit members from engaging in a strike during the life of the contract. Since the last agreement between the University and the UAW has expired, the Union may legally call for a strike under the current state of the law.

Are student workers permitted to strike?

Members of the bargaining unit are exercising a protected right under the National Labor Relations Act and would not be disciplined for being on strike. However, HGSU-UAW members who withhold labor during a strike may risk not being paid. In addition, the student workers would be expected to continue to meet their academic obligations in order to remain students in good standing. While they are allowed to strike, they still must attend any required classes as students and otherwise meet the academic requirements for their degree, including progress in their academic research, which for Research Assistants in the sciences includes some of their work in the lab. The University-Wide Statement on Rights and Responsibilities can help provide guidance.

What are the steps leading up to a strike by HGSU-UAW?

The potential for a strike begins with a Strike Authorization Vote (“SAV”) by HGSU-UAW’s members. According to the UAW Constitution, all HGSU-UAW members must be given due notice that the vote is happening, and to pass, it requires a two-thirds majority of voting members in good standing. If/when HGSU-UAW achieves a SAV, they will need final approval for a strike from the UAW International Executive Board. Once authorized by the International Executive Board, a strike is not automatic, but the HGSU-UAW’s elected bargaining team could call a strike at any time.

Can I ask student workers about their strike plans?

Individuals who hold supervisory roles over student workers, including faculty, should be cautioned not to generally question student workers about their strike activities, such as asking them whether they are going to strike, who else is going to strike, how many student workers are supporting the strike, what is the level of support for the strike, how long it will last.

However, and especially once a strike has commenced, faculty may ask student workers whether they plan to continue to work. However, such questioning must be done in strict accordance with the National Labor Relations Act and the guidelines provided by the NLRB. Accordingly, a supervisor asking a student worker whether they plan to continue to work must do the following:

  1. Specifically tell the SW that they are free to answer the question posed or not. The SW’s response is strictly voluntary and they must be told that by the supervisor.
     
  2. Provide the SW with the purpose of the questioning. For example, “In order to plan for the teaching of the course to which you were assigned, and to make sure the class is covered for our students, I would like to know if you will be carrying out that assignment.”
     
  3. Specifically assure the SW that no reprisals will be taken against them if they refuse to answer the question or if they participate in the strike.

In doing so, they should also be very careful not to otherwise question the student worker about the strike itself or to otherwise expand the conversation beyond the particular question posed. They may also verify, either by checking themselves or by asking student workers, whether sections/planned reviews are being held or whether lab assignments have been addressed.

Financial considerations

Will striking student workers be paid?

An employer has a legal right to withhold pay from striking workers for the days that they are on strike. The University intends to exercise that right. To best determine which student workers chose to strike, student workers will be asked by the University whether they withheld labor during a strike. If they did so, they will lose compensation that they would have otherwise received for those days. The University may also seek reimbursement for any overpayments made to student workers as a result of the strike. If the labor withheld relates to any grant funding, the University will adjust any related charges to the grants accordingly. Outside of lost pay for striking, no reprisals will be taken against any student worker for engaging in a lawful strike.

How will striking students be paid if they are working part-time on projects funded by grants, but are supported by GSAS fellowships for the rest? How will the hours be calculated for each?

Except in instances where the student worker’s stipend is their HGSU-UAW appointment salary, fellowship payments are not related to effort or time and will continue to be paid, provided the student remains in good academic standing. To best determine which student workers chose to strike, student workers will be asked by the University whether they withheld labor during a strike. If they did so, they will lose compensation that they would have otherwise received for those days. The University may also seek reimbursement for any overpayments made to student workers as a result of the strike. If the labor withheld relates to any grant funding, the University will adjust any related charges to the grants accordingly.

How will sponsored research fund effort reporting work during a strike?

Harvard University is required to comply with certain federal regulations for certifying effort expended on sponsored awards. Many factors, including the length of any strike and the amount of work missed, will determine what, if any, adjustments the University must make in order to meet its obligations relating to sponsored research. Striking student workers must not be paid from sponsored funds for time that they are not working unless they make up the work.

To best determine which student workers chose to strike, student workers will be asked by the University whether they withheld labor during a strike. If they did so, they will lose compensation that they would have otherwise received for those days. The University may also seek reimbursement for any overpayments made to student workers as a result of the strike. If the labor withheld relates to any grant funding, the University will adjust any related charges to the grants accordingly.

Labs should communicate academic expectations for student workers in the event of a strike, including stating whether student workers are required to be in the lab at particular times to carry out experiments or have other essential responsibilities that they must perform in order to be in good academic standing.

Academic considerations

How will I know if the instructional support staff for my course go on strike?

As noted elsewhere in this guidance, in order to avoid any suggestion of coercion, supervisors should not ask student workers about their strike plans in advance of the start of a strike. However, once a strike has commenced, it will be essential to know whether your instructional staff are teaching or grading student work. Here are several suggested approaches:

  • When a strike has commenced, you could send an email to all instructional staff in your course, asking them to let you know if they will be covering their sections and grading during the strike. However, the three guidelines noted above as to how those questions should be framed must be followed, whether the questioning is face to face or through email.
     
  • If you have just one TF, TA, or CA, you can ask them directly if they will be working during the strike, again following the guidelines above.
     
  • Have someone check the rooms where the class is held • Ask the students enrolled in the course if their class was held

How will I know if an RA goes on strike?

RAs have a dual role: they are students as well as workers. As a result, you can and should ask students whether they intend to fulfill their academic responsibilities and obligations to a research project, including during a potential strike. In having these conversations, you should keep the focus on academic and project responsibilities and not on whether students are striking.

If a union member withholds work during the strike, what options do I have for covering the work?

Protecting the University’s academic mission remains a priority for the University and delivering curriculum to students is an essential part of that mission. There are no restrictions on ensuring that work gets done. Faculty/managers have the right to hire additional staff, hire replacement teaching assistants, revise course requirements, and/or handle teaching and grading themselves. Faculty/managers should consult with their local administration for more specific guidance.

With appropriate local approvals and policy compliance, faculty/managers may hire staff to do the work the strike is leaving undone. Such staff may include:

  • preceptors, lecturers, other non-ladder faculty
     
  • course assistants and teaching fellows in the bargaining unit who have chosen not to strike
     
  • teaching assistants who are not Harvard students
     
  • qualified staff who are not Harvard affiliates

All payments for such services should be discussed with the Administrative Deans before any commitment is made. Faculty and other supervisors are, of course, also free to do any needed work themselves.

Can student workers who do not strike work as replacement staff for those who choose to strike?

While we cannot currently know how many student workers will choose to strike, should one be authorized, those who don’t strike, and who continue to teach, may be offered extra work for additional compensation. Extra work is defined as the performance of University work that falls entirely outside an employee's normal, regular job assignment. The employee’s acceptance of an extra work for extra pay assignment must be optional. For questions about this policy or the procedures involved, including questions regarding appropriate extra pay for extra work, please contact studentunionization@harvard.edu and/or the Office of Labor and Employee Relations.

How will the Harvard community be notified if classes are not meeting?

It is the University’s expectation that classes should not be disrupted. However, if there are cancellations individual schools will do their best to communicate that information in advance if possible. It is possible the University may not know in advance about a disruption to a class schedule. If that happens, information will be posted instructing students on how to proceed.

Are academic expectations independent of or determined by source of funding?

Under current labor law, some, but not all, of the effort students expend in the lab is compensable labor. Thus, a student worker may strike and withhold that labor, but as a student, they are responsible for maintaining academic progress toward their degree. The federal government has specifically acknowledged the dual role of student researchers as both trainees and employees contributing scientific work on federal awards. Academic expectations are not independent of nor determined by the source of funding. Faculty are ultimately responsible for determining whether a student is meeting academic expectations.

If a strike is for an extended duration, may I make adjustments to assignments, course meetings, or course requirements?

Faculty are responsible for teaching course material, and students are responsible for learning it. However, the forms of teaching and learning may need to change if there is a strike, particularly if it goes on for some time. We rely on faculty discretion in making necessary adjustments, always with the best interest of students in mind. Such adjustments could include: reducing the number of independent assessments being carried out, having students work in pairs on assignments, automating some forms of assessment, e.g. multiple choice, utilizing contingency planning technology to enable students to attend their courses without stress. Faculty are encouraged to check in with their local schools to learn more about possible adjustments.